Since I had never spoken Dutch with anyone before, I was curious how my solitary learning would hold up once I was actually in the Netherlands. While at OU, almost my only contact with Dutch was through reading some of the Harry Potter books, and then I spent a month immersed in Spanish, so I was worried that my Dutch had gotten rusty. I was also worried that people might not respond to me in Dutch, but that did not turn out to be an issue.
Even at the beginning, I was able to accomplish everything I needed to in Dutch, even though I sometimes scrambled for vocabulary. I even had a short conversation with a woman on the train in Belgium. I did feel more comfortable as time went on and I got more used to using Dutch, to the point where it felt strange for English to be used on the trains in England. Probably my main point of pre-departure improvement would have been learning more practical vocabulary like receipt (bon).
When classes started, I was a bit frustrated because I made mistakes in grammar I had previously studied, both in speaking and writing. I think the time elapsed since I had actively studied grammar or had any kind of graded output was the root of that. The course was quite intensive, since it aimed to get us from B1 to B2 in four weeks, which meant everyone was rather overwhelmed at first, particularly by the listening exercises.
Outside of class, I practiced speaking some with my roommates and during various transactions at the grocery store, the train station, etc. The museums I visited were a nice source of reading practice. For listening, I watched the news a lot. Our TV did not work, so I streamed the NPO broadcast. Later, I tried a couple of different shows, such as Nieuwsuur and Baantjer. I was delighted to find that I could understand a lot more of Baantjer then the last time I had tried it. The last week, I realized that Netflix changes based on your location, so I watched some films, mostly for older kids: How to Train your Dragon, Big Hero 6, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Achste Groepers Huilen Niet, and Mees Kees.
One of the strangest things for me throughout my study of Dutch has been the ease of listening. I am very much a bookworm, and reading is usually much easier for me than listening. Dutch has almost been the opposite. This was definitely the area I saw the most improvement in. I also got much more comfortable speaking Dutch. Reading was not my main concern, since its the easiest to improve at home. However, the course did cover quite a lot of vocabulary, which should be useful.
I bought 15 Dutch books while in the Netherlands. I would have bought more but my suitcase was stuffed. So I have those to enjoy for a while to come. I also got some recommendations for TV shows, including Nieuwsuur and De Wereld Draait Door. As always, there is lots available on npo.nl. Probably one of the coolest books I got is for reading Middle and Early Modern Dutch. I also got a book on the Maastrichts dialect, which is actually considered a different language. So when I want to branch out linguistically, I can do that too.
While I have plenty to keep me busy for a while, there is still one question I cannot answer yet. Many people asked me if I was planning to come back and live or study in the Netherlands. While I loved living in the Netherlands and I love the language, that is not in my plans right. But who knows what the future will hold?